Mayor-President Kip Holden has touted Baton Rouge as the next great American city.
The mass-transit system in the next great American city shouldn’t have to shake a tin cup for donations to keep its doors open.
But that’s what the Capital Area Transit System has been facing as it seeks to close a $1.5 million budget deficit that has threatened to close the transit system by the end of October.
Unlike most transit systems that serve cities the size of Baton Rouge, CATS has no dedicated source of funding. CATS stays afloat through a fluctuating mix of fare revenue, city-parish allocations, and state and federal grants. The result hasn’t been pretty.
CATS recently got a $500,000 grant from the East Baton Rouge Parish Mortgage Finance Authority, which should help close part of the budget gap. CATS officials say they believe they can make up the difference with some federal grants. A state grant of $500,000 will be used, with the finance authority money, to match federal funds.
But that’s only a short-term solution to CATS’ problems. In the longer term, CATS will need a dedicated tax to maintain and expand its services. A blue-ribbon commission of civic leaders recently recommended that a tax proposal to fund CATS be placed on the ballot next year.
We’re not ready to endorse the commission’s idea for a dedicated tax, but we do believe some form of dedicated funding for CATS is necessary.
A city that aspires to greatness will have a hard time reaching its destination on an impoverished transit system.